How to NOT Get What You Want From Customer Service
Everyone has a bad customer service experience to tell. Whether it's poor service at a restaurant, a rude salesperson, or a product that has broken only days after purchase, chances are a transaction or two hasn't gone as well as you would have liked.
But how to solve the problem? The simple solution is to stop doing business with the company. One Seattle blogger stopped going to a restaurant when it started charging for butter. He hasn't returned, despite the restaurant having changed its policy.
Walking away is easy for you, but it leaves the business not knowing why you're no longer a customer.
If you want to help the business improve — or more likely — you want your service improved or the error fixed, then complaining is how to do it. (See also: How to Get What You Want on Customer Service Calls)
Complaints Improve Customer Service
Businesses that respond well to customer complaints can see their profits rise, according to a 2011 study of consumer rage that found that more than 50 million Americans had a problem with a product or service they bought in 2010, with more than $58 billion in transactions at risk for the businesses that sold them.
"The good news is that, if a company handles your complaint well, it will enhance your brand loyalty and can even add to its profitability," said Professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, in a press release. "The bad news is that ineffective customer-complaint handling may be even worse than not responding to the complaints at all."
The study by the business school and the firm Customer Care Measurement and Consulting found that cable and satellite TV service gave consumers the most problems. The biggest pet peeve was losing time in dealing with the problem, which was more upsetting than the monetary or other wrongs suffered. Being "ping-ponged" from one customer service person to another was especially aggravating, with an average of 4.4 contacts needed to resolve complaints.
Calling is one way to try to solve a complaint, though yelling may not get you far. Here are some other terrible ways to try to get what you want from a business, followed by suggestions on how to be a better complainer.
1. Set a Christmas Tree on Fire
In December, police in San Antonio told news outlets there that a man set fire to a Christmas tree at Denny's because he was annoyed by waiting for the check to arrive. The fire was put out and no one was injured, and the man was being sought by police after causing $150,000 in damage.
That's an extreme case of not being patient. Better solutions would be to get up and go to the front counter to pay the bill, or take a few breaths, relax, and think about the consequences of your actions before doing something stupid like lighting a fire in a restaurant.
2. Yell at an Employee
It may feel better to scream at someone, but they're probably not listening too well over all the noise. And bad language may just shut down their hearing entirely.
A better solution is to realize you're mad and walk away for a minute to compose yourself before returning to discuss the issue, says writer Neven Gibbs. Venting your anger will only get the staff to do enough to get rid of you.
"Generally, courtesy and friendliness has gotten better customer service than rude unwarranted behaviors," Gibbs wrote in an email. "Ask and be civil." If you still aren't satisfied after stepping outside to calm down and returning to complain, take your money somewhere else, he recommends.
3. Complain Without Knowing What You Want in Return
Yelling may help you get the frustration off of your chest, but it won't solve the problem if you don't provide an idea of how you want the problem solved. Offering a solution can help a business improve and see problems it didn't notice before.
"A complaint without a potential solution will often be ignored," says Volney Douglas, who has complained to a smoothie shop owner after a drink tasted bad and he noticed poor reviews on Yelp. The owner gave him a refund and a coupon after he suggested she use fresh ingredients instead of frozen fruit.
"I always explain to a business that I am complaining only to give them an opportunity to fix their issue," Douglas wrote in an email. "For each customer that complains, at least 10 notice and will stop doing business in the future."
4. Keep Your Complaint Private
If you're not getting satisfaction from a company, sometimes alerting the world to your problem will get results, or at least a faster response, by making it public on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisor, or other social media sites. Not everyone has more than 230,000 Twitter followers, as comedian Dan Nainan does, but the threat of putting a complaint out on Twitter can solve problems if it's used wisely and in extreme cases, Nainan says.
5. Write an Incoherent Letter
If you do take the time to sit down and write a letter — which is always better than quickly sending off an email — then writing a rambling one where you go on and on about how wronged you feel without detailing what action you want taken won't get you far.
Letters may seem old-fashioned, but many companies require written proof before they can solve a problem. These include disputing a credit charge, address changes at financial institutions, and demand for payment to initiate claims, according to Robert Farrington, who wrote about how to write a letter to a business.
6. Forget Who You Talk to and When
If you're calling a customer representative, get their name and any other identifying information they'll give you, such as a direct phone line to call back. You may get disconnected or they may be rude, and having this information will help report the problem.
Scott Bielicki, an attorney who regularly advises consumers dealing with businesses, has a simple checklist to assist in the complaint process. Bielicki suggests having all of your documents at hand when calling; getting the name and identification number of the person you're speaking to; keeping a log of all of your contacts with the company, including the date of the contact, the people you spoke with, and the length of the contact; and asking for the supervisor, or the supervisor's supervisor, if you're not getting the answer you're looking for.
7. Gripe to the Wrong People
Complaining to customer service representatives and other "minimum wage chimps," as comedian Dan Nainan describes them, is a waste of time. They don't often have the authority to give you the solution you want, so either ask for their supervisor or go straight to the top.
Nainan says he has recorded phone calls with some customer reps (which is illegal in some states unless you first tell them you're recording the call), and then at the end of the call he says, "I'm really dissatisfied with the service you provided — I'm going to call the president of your company and complain."
"Then I'll take the tape of that call and then send it to the CEO," Nainan wrote in an email interview. "You'd be surprised how effective that can be. I've always believed in complaining from the top of the pyramid down, instead of the bottom up. Too many people complain from the bottom up, and that gets them nowhere."
In extreme cases where he's getting lousy customer service, Nainan has a way to get someone at the top of the corporate ladder, or at least near the top, on the phone — he calls them at home. Using a website that he pays $3 a month so he can look up anyone's home address and phone number, Nainan once called the vice president of the laptop division of a computer he owned.
Nainan left a message, and the VP got back to him, fixed his problem and extended his computer's warranty by a year for free. Now Nainan just emails him directly if he ever has a problem.
That's the ultimate customer service connection to have in your pocket.
What customer service strategies have you tried that ultimately failed? What strategies work best?